How Do Punitive Damages Work in DC Personal Injury Cases?

By Peter DePaolis

Damages are the remedy for a personal injury or accident claim. The court cannot undo the injury, so it grants damages for the injured party’s physical, emotional, and financial losses.This type of compensation is referred to as compensatory damages, because it is designed to compensate you for your losses. In addition to compensatory damages, some victims receive punitive damages. When you meet with our DC personal injury attorney, we evaluate your claim for compensatory and non-compensatory damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are awarded as a punishment for egregious conduct in a personal injury lawsuit. The defendant pays the damages to the plaintiff. Only a small number of personal injury victims receive punitive damages. 

In addition to punishing the defendant for outrageous behavior, punitive damages deter future behavior. The monetary punishment deters the defendant from repeating the behavior that caused the plaintiff’s injury. Furthermore, punitive damages can deter other individuals from engaging in the same or similar behavior. 

Punitive damages are not paid as part of a settlement agreement. Instead, a judge determines whether to include instructions to the jury regarding an award of punitive damages. If the jurors believe the plaintiff has met the burden of proof for punitive damages, they award an amount for punitive damages in addition to the award for compensatory damages.

How Do Punitive Damages Work in a DC Personal Injury Case?

A plaintiff must ask for punitive damages as part of their relief when they file a lawsuit. However, punitive damages are only awarded in a small number of cases. The plaintiff has the burden of proving the defendant:

  • Committed a tortious act (a tort is conduct that gives rise to harm or injury to another person);
  • Accompanied by recklessness, fraud, oppressiveness, or wantonness;
  • That shows a willful disregard for the rights and safety of other individuals. 

Punitive damages are typically awarded in cases that involve criminal acts or intentional torts. The plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with a state of mind evidencing malice. Ordinary negligence does not justify the payment of punitive damages. 

Clear and convincing evidence is a step above the level of proof needed to receive compensatory damages. To receive economic and non-economic damages, you must prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. That means there is a greater than 50% chance that the facts you present are truer than untrue.

However, clear and convincing evidence is a medium level of proof between a preponderance of the evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt. It means you must prove that it is substantially and highly more likely the facts are truer than untrue.

The reason for the high level of proof is that punitive damages are a “punishment” instead of a requirement to reimburse the injured party for losses.

Contact Our DC Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Consultation

We carefully analyze your personal injury claim to determine whether the facts in your case support an award for punitive damages. Our legal team works to maximize recovery of all damages. Call our law firm to schedule your free consultation with an experienced DA personal injury attorney to discuss your case.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.